Monday, March 26, 2012

Crowning the Prince of Atlantis

Playwright Steven Drukman rehearses the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of The Prince of Atlantis with,
from left to right, Brett Ryback, Adam Arkin and Matthew Arkin.

By Kelly L. Miller

Playwright Steven Drukman is having a banner spring.  His new play, The Prince of Atlantis, will have its world premiere on the Segerstrom Stage in April, anchoring the 2012 Pacific Playwrights Festival.  And a reading of his newest play, Death of the Author, kicked off Manhattan Theatre Club’s prestigious 7 @ 7 reading series in New York in March.  Death of the Author will also be featured in Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Unplugged new play festival in April.

Drukman’s work has been produced all over the country, but his artistic relationship with South Coast Repertory began over a decade ago.  His play The Bullet Round was read in our NewSCRipts reading series in 2001 and his play Truth and Beauty was featured in the 2002 Pacific Playwrights Festival.

With The Prince of Atlantis, Steven Drukman is returning home—literally.  The play is set in his hometown of Newton, MA, just outside of Boston – in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Nonantum.  (An area known as “down the lake,” distinguished by its unique Boston jargon.) In this heartfelt comedy, Drukman tells the story of two adult brothers – Joey and Kevin Coletti – in crisis and on the verge of major life change.  

Adam Arkin, Nike Doukas and Matthew Arkin rehearse the Pacific
Playwrights Festival reading of The Prince of Atlantis.
You see, things aren’t going so well for Joey, one of the biggest seafood importers on the East coast.  He’s been incarcerated in a minimum-security prison for mislabeling certain goods and now, after 30 years, the son he never knew wants to meet him.  Joey asks his younger brother Kevin to help him—to put his son, Miles, off for nine months—until he gets out of prison.  But the situation quickly spirals out of control, when Miles shows up at Joey’s house unannounced, looking to meet his birth father.  Kevin enlists the help of Connie, Joey’s girlfriend and business partner, but there’s a limit to how far he’ll go to cover up Joey’s lies.

The Prince of Atlantis is a poignant and funny dramatic exploration of the nature of brotherhood, loyalty, love and families—old and new.  Faced with meeting his brother’s secret son, Kevin must decide how much of the past to reveal—and which secrets should remain untold.

SCR audiences first heard The Prince of Atlantis read last season as part of our NewSCRipts reading series, followed by a hit reading of the play in the 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival.  Actors Matthew Arkin (Kevin) and Brett Ryback (Miles) have been with the play since that first reading and actress Nike Doukas (Connie) joined the cast during PPF.  Veteran film actor John Kapelos (Joey) completes the acting company.

This world premiere production is helmed by director Warner Shook, a longtime member of SCR’s artistic family.  Shook has directed numerous SCR productions including last season’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir and Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart in 2010.

Steven Drukman—On Writing, Inspiration and Returning Home to SCR

With The Prince of Atlantis currently in rehearsals for the Pacific Playwrights Festival, dramaturg Kelly Miller asked playwright Steven Drukman to talk about his writing process and the inspiration for his new play, set “down the lake.”

Playwright Steven Drukman
I seem to always have "ideas for plays" swirling around but don't know how or why or when to write them down. The "when" is really important, as you don't want to start writing too early. Invariably I begin with character and never with plot, and I always ask myself the same three questions about my characters: What do they want? What happens if they don't get it? Why now?  Now that sounds like my writing process is really schematic—it's not, at least not consciously—but if I can't answer all three of those questions, the play is not ready to be written, no matter how rich the characters are.

The Prince of Atlantis came out in its first draft almost fully cooked.  I knew I wanted to deal with two brothers, Joey and Kevin.  I knew that they were the middle-aged version of the Joey and Kevin in an earlier play of mine titled The Bullet Round (an SCR NewScripts reading in 2001).  And for whatever reason, after writing a dozen or so plays, I felt suddenly ready to look at the issues of my being adopted.  Somehow that crucial emotional component converted Joey and Kevin (Irish in The Bullet Round) into Italians, maybe to accord with my genetic background.

And once I had the setting of Nonantum in mind—which is a largely-Italian part of Newton, my home town, but also on the other side of the tracks, so also NOT my home town—I had my play.  That double awareness—of feeling at home and not feeling at home all at once—seems to be the experience of adopted people. I wanted to get that feeling into the play. The language of Nonantum, the music of the Boston accents, the particular concerns of New England, the Red Sox fandom—this is all home to me and also something I feel like I left behind, as an adult in New York.  Once I took that on emotionally, and theatricalized it, a play with the singular plot turns and characters of The Prince of Atlantis just wrote itself.

Steven Drukman, Alan Flynn and director Warner Shook.
What's more, I love homecoming plays—Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is among my favorite written works, as is Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. and in those plays, the character who comes home always resonates most for me.  Teddy in The Homecoming. Biff in Death of a Salesman. And poor Vince in Sam Shepard's Buried Child, who no one in the family even recognizes.

It makes sense, then, that SCR be the right place for this play. It IS my artistic home. I got my start here, and have felt nurtured by this institution from the beginning. This whole process has been a homecoming, of sorts. Having Matthew Arkin and Brett Ryback with the play from the first NewScripts reading into PPF and now in production has helped put more flesh on the bones of the two central characters, and this entire cast and director and dramaturg and stage managers and everyone involved, frankly, have given this project a family feel. Please don't throw up when I say something like that, but sorry, it happens to be wicked true.

A great article about the research trip to Nonamtum, taken by playwright Steven Drukman, director Warner Shook and local consultant Alan Flynn.

For more about Newton, MA and the Language of the Lake, read this 2009 Boston Globe article.

Check out a glossary to the “down the lake” language used in The Prince of Atlantis.

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's an Old Favorite—With a Twist!

Brooke Boukather 
(Teen Briar Rose)
and Lindsey Trouple (Teen Owain). 
The fantastical world in this Sleeping Beauty is totally hip.  But the urban kingdom still has the same big problem—a curse has been put on its royal princess.

South Coast Repertory’s Junior Players are the hipsters in this stage version of the classic fairy tale, adapted by Charles Way.  Directed by Mercy Vasquez, Sleeping Beauty will be presented in SCR’s Nicholas Studio March 24-April 2.

In Way’s modern (and very funny version), the  king and queen squabble over ways to prevent Princess Briar Rose from falling into a 100-year sleep—to no avail.  Even the bright witch Branwen can’t stop her sister, the dark (very dark) witch Modron, from carrying out the evil plan. And no matter how hard he tries, Briar Rose’s faithful half-dragon/half-man sidekick is powerless, too.  It’s up to the timid prince next door to conquer the forces of evil (man and beast) and awaken Briar Rose.  All he really needs is a little self-confidence.  Will he find it?

The cast of Sleeping Beauty can’t wait to answer that question for you! They’re the 14 members of SCR’s Junior Players (grades 6-8), who were chosen through audition after at least two years in the Youth Conservatory. The Junior Players attend class twice weekly during the school year, with additional rehearsal time prior to their annual performance.  Instructor-director Vasquez is with the students throughout ten weeks of class, ten weeks of rehearsal/performance and then back to class for the remaining ten weeks.

Benjamin Dilsisian (King Peredur), Brooke Boukather 
(Teen Briar Rose),
Lindsey Troupe (Teen Owain) and Lauren Castleton (Queen Guinevere).
According toVasquez, “This adaptation spoke to me because it’s unlike the Sleeping Beauty of my childhood. While it remains a classic tale of good verses evil, things are not always what they may appear to be, and this script plays against the conventional beliefs of what it means to be a "princess" and a "hero." The characters behave in ways that are unexpected, leaving you to ponder the question, "Who is truly good and who is truly evil?"

Vasquez graduated from UCLA with majors in English Literature and Theatre and received dramatic training at King’s College in London, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Professional Acting Program in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory.  She has performed on stage at SCR, Garden Grove Playhouse, Theater Theater and Heritage Square Theater.

"Sight Unseen": A Pearl of an Evening

On March 16, the Argyros Stage was packed with First Nighters, their guests; the Honorary Producers, Pam and Jim Muzzy; the theatre’s namesake, Julianne Argyros and her husband, George; and the playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies (who flew in the night before from his home in Connecticut)—just to mention a few of the evening’s luminaries.

The occasion was an auspicious one: the 20th anniversary revival of Margulies’ breakthough play, Sight Unseen. After its world premiere at SCR, Sight Unseen went on to productions across the country and was revived on Broadway in 2004. But according to everyone in the audience on March 16, this was the revival that counted.

The play was preceded by a conversation in the Nicholas Studio with the playwright and Director David Emmes, moderated by Dramaturg Kelly Miller. A rapt audience of SCR Honorary Producers, their families and friends were captivated by the insights and stories that Margulies and Emmes shared. After the show, Mikimoto opened its doors in South Coast Plaza for a dazzling Cast Party. Guests praised the underwriters and artists, sampled treats from Quattro Caffe and then shopped—for some of the world’s most beautiful cultured pearl jewelry, with 15% of the evening’s purchases donated to SCR.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Free Event with Donald Margulies

Playwright Donald Margulies
Saturday, March 17, at 3 p.m.
Chapman University
Leatherby Libraries

1 University Drive

Orange, CA 92866

Playwright Donald Margulies is coming to South Coast Repertory (SCR) for the 20th Anniversary production of Sight Unseen, which had its world premiere here and was considered his breakthrough play.  Donald went on to write three more plays for SCR (Collected Stories, Shipwrecked! and Brooklyn Boy) and to win the Pulitzer Prize for Dinner With Friends, which had its West Coast premiere at SCR.

Bill Brochtrup and Kandis Chappell in
Noises Off.
Donald will make a guest appearance at Chapman University the day after opening night when he will speak about writing for theatre, television and film. SCR favorites Kandis Chappell and Bill Brochtrup will read scenes from Collected Stories, Sight Unseen and Dinner with Friends.

During his last appearance at Chapman, Donald spoke to a packed house before the world premiere of Brooklyn Boy, which went on to productions on Broadway and at the Comedie des Champs-Elysees in Paris. Since then, his play Time Stands Still had a Broadway run in 2010, and his teleplay of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex is scheduled to air on HBO.

So grab a friend and hightail it over to Chapman on Saturday, March 17. The event is free and it begins at 3 p.m. (and will be over in time for your St. Patrick’s Day festivities) at Chapman University’s Leatherby Library.

The details:

Saturday, March 17 at 3p.m.
Leatherby Libraries, 2nd floor, Doy and Dee Henley Reading Room

Free, seating on first-come/first-served basis

“Leatherby Libraries” is the big main library near the fountain—you can’t miss it!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Artistic Inspiration—Past and Present—with Donald Margulies

Sight Unseen Returns Home
  • 1990: NewSCRipts reading at SCR
  • 1991: World premiere at SCR
  • 1992: New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club (with Laura Linney as Grete)
  • 2004: Broadway revival by Manhattan Theatre Club (with Laura Linney as Patricia)
  • 2012: SCR revival
By Kelly L. Miller

Since Sight Unseen premiered at South Coast Repertory in 1991, it has become a modern classic in the American theatre.  The result of Donald Margulies’ first commission from SCR, Sight Unseen was his breakout play, garnering both an OBIE Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination following its New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1992.  In The New York Times, Frank Rich called it “a smart and sad new comedy…about the 1980's art scene, the loss of love and the price of assimilation, both ethnic and intellectual, in an America where authenticity often has little to do with an artist's—or anyone else's—rise to the top.”

Margulies’ play centers on protagonist Jonathan Waxman, a provocative American painter who has exploded onto the New York art scene—and who has a line of patrons waiting for his newest work.  Waxman is in London, on the cusp of his first European show, but something is missing.  Yearning to reconnect with his personal and artistic past, Jonathan searches out Patricia, his first love and artistic muse, who now lives in the British countryside with her husband Nick, working on ancient archaeological digs.

Margulies' first SCR commission and world premiere
was Sight Unseen in 1991 with Stephen Rowe,
Randy Oglesby and Elizabeth Norment.
SCR's second Margulies premiere was Collected Stories
with Kandis Chappell and Suzanne Cryer in 1996.

Margulies’ structurally inventive play doesn’t unfold chronologically.  Rather, it moves back and forth in time, charting Jonathan and Patricia’s turbulent past and unexpected reunion, as well as Waxman’s London interview with a German art critic named Grete, who ultimately questions the artistic integrity of his controversial work. 

In Sight Unseen, Margulies explores numerous thematic concerns—including the nature of artistic inspiration, creation and first love; the value of art as a commodity; the impact of an artist’s cultural identity and family on his work; and the powerful effect time and memory can have as one revisits his past loves and successes.  In his review of the 2004 New York revival, Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Margulies has never been merely a satirist. His plays are usually about how time and memory transform feelings, relationships and the perception of the past.”

Margulies returned in 2004 with Brooklyn Boy
featuring Adam Arkin and Ari Graynor.

In 2007 SCR premiered Margulies most recent
commission Shipwrecked! An Entertainment
with Melody Butiu and Gregory Itzin.

When asked about his inspiration to remount Sight Unseen, director David Emmes cited Jonathan Waxman’s quest to reconcile his own past in order to understand his artistic future.  As Emmes continues his lifelong artistic journey at SCR—a theater he co-founded with Martin Benson in 1964—it’s a challenge that resonates with him.  How does the past inform your present and future artistic success?  How does your artistic viewpoint change and evolve over time?  And most importantly, “how do you continue to live a challenging and fulfilling life in the theatre” as an artist, as time goes by?

We hope you’ll join us as we welcome one of our favorite playwrights, Donald Margulies, back home.

Playwright Donald Margulies.
About the Playwright

SCR has had a long and successful artistic relationship with playwright Donald Margulies.  He’s the author of four plays that were commissioned and premiered by SCR:  Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (2007); Sight Unseen (1991) and the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award-winner, Collected Stories (1996), both of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and Brooklyn Boy (2004). His play Dinner with Friends, which originated at Actors Theatre of Louisville, went on after its West Coast premiere at SCR to win numerous awards, including the 2000 Pulitzer Prize.  This revival of Sight Unseen will mark Donald’s seventh production at SCR, putting him near the top of our most-produced playwrights list. 

Margulies was the recipient of the 2000 Sidney Kingsley Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre by a playwright.  He is currently adapting the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides into an HBO miniseries and he is an adjunct professor of English and Theatre Studies at Yale University.